With the future of several new parks and protected areas in the Lillooet area hanging in the balance, including a provincial park in the South Chilcotin Mountains, environmental groups are urging people to write letters to members of the provincial government in support of parks.
"Whistler needs to stand up and be heard louder than before," said Dennis Perry of the South Chilcotin Mountains Wilderness Society. "In the end, the government and (Sustainable Resource Management Minister) Stan Hagen are going to listen to the communities on this issue, and right now Whistler is the only community in the area where the council is in favour of conservation in the area.
"Support your council and mayor. Write to them. Write to Minister Hagen. Write to Victoria and ask them to respect the NDPs and the LRMP tables decisions in this area."
Perry was among the speakers at a March 7 AWARE presentation on the future of the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan.
Back in November the Liberal government announced its plans to review the first phase of the Lillooet LRMP, which was completed on the outgoing NDP partys last day in office before calling an election, when cabinet voted in favour of the conservation option.
Stakeholders in the area have met at round table discussions since 1997, and in those years managed to hammer out agreements over most of the land base. The table was split into two sides on certain areas, conservation verses industry, and both sides agreed to table their options for those areas to the government and allow cabinet to decide.
The conservation side recommended the creation of a 71,400 hectare park in the South Chilcotin Mountains, including the Spruce Lake area, plus the protection of 13 other areas. In addition to the roughly 12 per cent of the land base that was already protected, the conservation option brought the total protected area in the Lillooet LRMP to just over 20 per cent.
The mayors with the LRMP asked the new Liberal government to set aside the conservation option based on the fact that they NDP failed to conduct an economic impact study. The Liberals agreed, and the government is currently in the process of reviewing the LRMP. Minister Hagen will release his decision in May.
The South Chilcotin area is popular for cycling, hiking, horseback riding, camping and fishing, and has been a proposed site for a provincial park since 1937. The area is also considered to be the line of extinction for grizzly bears in the region; without protection, that line is expected to move even further north.
The tourism industry in the area currently provides 150 full-time equivalent jobs in the area and generates $10 million in annual revenues. Perry believes that the threat that logging poses to the scenic quality has prevented the tourism industry from further investing the area.
"This is our last chance, these next two months," says Perry. "This area has been recognized as the highest degree of wilderness values of anywhere in the province. Logging and mining are short-term, and would spoil the tourism values in this area forever."